New study attributes thousands of puffin deaths to climate change

New study attributes thousands of puffin deaths to climate change
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A new study has linked the deaths of thousands of seabirds in the Bering Sea partially to climate change.

Thousands of tufted puffins died between 2016 and 2017 in the sea west of the Alaskan mainland in what researchers called a "mass mortality event," according to a study published Wednesday in PLOS One.

Researchers estimated that between 3,150 and 8,500 seabirds died over a four-month period beginning in October 2016, most likely from starvation. The birds later washed up on the Pribilof Islands in the southern Bering Sea.

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The study posits that global warming may be at least partially to blame following a loss of energy-rich prey, likely triggered by increased sea temperatures and diminishing sea ice. Researchers found declines in fish populations, which puffins typically rely on for food, as result of warming water in the Bering Sea.

"Mass mortality events are increasing in frequency and magnitude, potentially linked with ongoing climate change," the study's authors concluded.

"These 'massive mortality events'—defined as catastrophic, but often short-lived, periods of elevated mortality—can affect substantial proportions of a population, occasionally with long-term consequences to population size."

Many of the dead birds were also molting, which made flying farther for prey difficult, according to the study.